With Super Bowl LVIII decided, little appears to separate Packers from NFL's biggest stage
The Packers find themselves in favorable circumstances as the march to the 2024 season begins.
Last night, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, becoming the first team in nearly a decade to win the title in back-to-back seasons. The game marks the conclusion of the 2023 season as well as the unofficial beginning of the offseason. Though the start of the new league year remains just over a month away, every NFL team can now fully engage in preparations for free agency and the 2024 NFL Draft.
Today's edition of The Leap tries to separate the signal from the noise created by Sunday's game and looks at how the Green Bay Packers can position themselves to make a championship run of their own next season.
Thank you for reading and supporting our coverage. You can also support our work by following us on social media:
If you appreciate thoughtful, independent coverage of the Packers and NFL, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Your support allows us to serve this community with the stories and reporting it deserves.
As always, thanks for making The Leap a part of your day.
The Packers should feel like the Lombardi Trophy is extremely attainable after watching Super Bowl LVIII
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Super Bowl LVIII provided myriad takeaways, many of which will undoubtedly generate tireless debate over the next week on Sports Shouting (various networks). 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will again find himself at the center of criticism, not all of it warranted. Meanwhile, the conversation surrounding Patrick Mahomes will increasingly focus on historical comparisons as opposed to contemporary ones.
Regardless, after watching the playoff runs by both the Chiefs and 49ers, it has become increasingly clear that the immediate future of the NFL remains up for grabs. For a fast-rising team like the Packers, that means a chance to reach the summit as soon as next season.
To some, that conclusion might seem premature. After all, Kansas City has played in four of the last five Super Bowls, winning three of them. On the other side, San Francisco has reached at least the NFC Championship Game every season since 2019 in which their preferred starting signal-caller avoided a major injury (and even reached the conference title game in one year with a third-string quarterback). Just looking at those track records, it might seem as though the Chiefs and 49ers remain well positioned to control the AFC and NFC, respectively, for the foreseeable future.
However, both franchises face considerable uncertainty moving forward.
When the Chiefs took home the Lombardi Trophy after the 2022 season, they did so as one of the NFL's premier offensive attacks that managed to overcome a makeshift supporting cast for Mahomes. That changed this past year as they fell to the bottom reaches of the top 10 by DVOA -- a capable but comparatively limited unit -- while the defense carried the team most of the way. Even the Super Bowl featured no shortage of game-changing plays by Kansas City defenders.
As for San Francisco, many of the pieces that combined for the NFL's premier offense could leave and/or experience decline before they play again. All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams could realistically retire this offseason and, at nearly 36 years old, has begun to show signs of his age. George Kittle and Deebo Samuel have also exhibited more wear this past year, the inevitable result of their physical playing style. Christian McCaffrey could also reach that point in the near future. As for Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers have to decide whether they can afford to extend him. If not, trading the talented wideout before he can leave as a free agent remains on the table.
For the Packers, who beat the Chiefs in a prime-time showdown this past season and nearly knocked out the 49ers on the road in the divisional round, leapfrogging either Super Bowl LVIII participant seems doable. Jordan Love has already provided high-end play for an extended period of time while working almost exclusively with first- and second-year receivers. All of the principal parts of the Green Bay passing game appear likely to improve, and the offense finished 2023 as the No. 3 unit by weighted DVOA.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers would have a hard time replicating the underperformance of the Joe Barry era. While some areas of the unit will require attention his offseason, much of the existing personnel should fit with new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. A modest improvement on defense coupled with a comparable or better offense could realistically springboard Green Bay into title contention with a multiyear championship window.
The Chiefs and 49ers expect to compete for Super Bowl LIX, and each has a path to that game. No one should count out a Mahomes-led team of any variety, and San Francisco still has a highly talented roster.
Still, Kansas City needed the best defense of the Mahomes era to reach the Super Bowl, and the performance of those units tends to fluctuate considerably from one year to the next. Maybe the Chiefs rebuild the receiving corps in a single offseason and reinvigorate the offense, but their cap restraints and limited resources make that a significant challenge. Travis Kelce, their future Hall of Fame tight end, struggled in 2023 to match his past productivity and turns 35 in October. Expecting a swift turnaround of that unit before Week 1 seems like a dicey proposition even with the league's best player under center.
San Francisco will lose at least some talented players to free agency and will need quarterback Brock Purdy to fill in the gaps. He might find another gear, but his limited physical tools cast doubt on that possibility. This version of the 49ers might have just passed their apex without taking home the title.
All of which underscores the opportunity for the Packers to take advantage of their talented, young, inexpensive roster. The leap from good to great remains as challenging as anything in football, but the chessboard offers plenty of reasons for optimism in Green Bay.
The trade market will feature quality veterans this offseason
JBH: Since the Packers' great offseason spending spree of 2019 -- a haul that included Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith, and Billy Turner -- the front office has mostly stayed away from big-ticket items not already on the roster. The COVID-related shrinking of the salary cap played a role in that development, but Green Bay also didn't have the same appetite for making such moves during the final years of the Aaron Rodgers era.
That doesn't mean the team will continue to forego major veteran additions as it looks to capitalize on the breakthroughs of 2023, however.
"I think it depends on the player, right?" Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said earlier this month when asked about pushing assets into 2024 to acquire veteran talent. "It just depends on who that is and how he can impact our football team. I don't think we'll shy away from adding any impact players if we have to push things down the road. We prefer not to do that, but at the same time, this is about winning and trying to win a championship. So, if that's something that makes sense, we'll do it."
And adding veteran talent doesn't necessarily mean signing free agents. The trade market could see plenty of activity this offseason if recent reports provide any indication. The morning before Super Bowl LVIII, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport indicated that Philadelphia Eagles pass rusher Haason Reddick had received permission to seek a trade.
From the Packers' perspective, this news likely doesn't offer sufficient intrigue, at least not directly. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Reddick doesn't fit as an every-down edge defender on an even front such as the one Green Bay will feature under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. Reddick could operate as a pass-rushing "Sam" linebacker, but the utility probably doesn't match the contract cost -- the All-Pro will require an extension -- and trade compensation needed to land him.
However, Reddick's availability might signal a larger sell-off in Philadelphia. Surely, the Eagles plan to contend in 2024 as indicated by the decision to retain head coach Nick Sirianni and bring in new coordinators on both sides of the ball. However, that doesn't mean general manager Howie Roseman wouldn't seriously consider trading veterans that don't factor into the team's long-term future.
And Philly has talent that could make sense for the Packers. Veteran safety Kevin Byard provides an answer as the deep safety in single-high looks and still performed at a high level in 2023. His deal also voids after next season. Byard previously played for the Tennessee Titans who, in 2018, featured current Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur as the offensive coordinator.
Perhaps the Packers could persuade Philadelphia to absorb some of the remaining roster bonus on that contract in return for a trade package centered on an early Day 3 pick (more than what Byard cost to acquire last October). Doing so would still clear cap space for the Eagles while also clearing the way for some of the younger talent they more recently brought onto the roster.
Whether or not the Packers can find a useful veteran from Philadelphia, they should scour the trade market for this type of opportunity.
The Leap is a reader-supported publication covering the Green Bay Packers and NFL with insights and reporting available nowhere else. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.